SNS Telecom & IT‘s latest research report indicates that annual spending on LTE and 5G NR-based CBRS network infrastructure – which includes RAN (Radio Access Network), mobile core and transport network equipment – will account for more than $1.5 Billion by the end of 2026.
After many years of regulatory, standardization and technical implementation activities, the United States’ dynamic, three-tiered, hierarchical framework to coordinate shared use of 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) band has finally become a commercial success. Although the shared spectrum arrangement is access technology neutral, the 3GPP cellular wireless ecosystem is at the forefront of CBRS adoption, with more than half of all active CBSDs (Citizens Broadband Radio Service Devices) based on LTE and 5G NR air interface technologies.
LTE-based CBRS network deployments have gained considerable momentum in recent years and encompass hundreds of thousands of cell sites – operating in both GAA (General Authorized Access) and PAL (Priority Access License) spectrum tiers – to support use cases as diverse as mobile network densification, FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) in rural communities, MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) offload, neutral host small cells for in-building coverage enhancement, and private cellular networks in support of IIoT (Industrial IoT), enterprise connectivity, distance learning and smart city initiatives.
Commercial rollouts of 5G NR network equipment operating in the CBRS band have also begun, which are laying the foundation for advanced application scenarios that have more demanding performance requirements in terms of throughput, latency, reliability, availability and connection density – for example, Industry 4.0 applications such as connected production machinery, mobile robotics, AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) and AR (Augmented Reality)-assisted troubleshooting.
Examples of 5G NR-based CBRS network installations range from luxury automaker BMW Group’s industrial-grade 5G network for autonomous logistics at its Spartanburg plant in South Carolina and the U.S. Navy’s standalone private 5G network at NAS (Naval Air Station) Whidbey Island to mobile operator Verizon’s planned activation of 5G NR-equipped CBRS small cells to supplement its existing 5G service deployment over C-band and mmWave (Millimeter Wave) spectrum.
SNS Telecom & IT estimates that annual investments in LTE and 5G NR-based CBRS RAN (Radio Access Network), mobile core and transport network infrastructure will account for nearly $900 Million by the end of 2023. Complemented by an expanding selection of 3GPP Band 48/n48-compatible end user devices, the market is further expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 20% between 2023 and 2026 to surpass $1.5 Billion in annual spending by 2026. Much of this growth will be driven by private cellular, neutral host and fixed wireless broadband network deployments, as well as 5G buildouts aimed at improving the economics of the cable operators’ MVNO services.
The “LTE & 5G NR-Based CBRS Networks: 2023 – 2030 – Opportunities, Challenges, Strategies & Forecasts” report presents a detailed assessment of the market for LTE and 5G NR in CBRS spectrum including the value chain, market drivers, barriers to uptake, enabling technologies, key trends, future roadmap, business models, use cases, application scenarios, standardization, regulatory landscape, case studies, ecosystem player profiles and strategies. The report also provides forecasts for LTE and 5G NR-based CBRS network infrastructure and terminal equipment from 2023 to 2030. The forecasts cover three infrastructure submarkets, two air interface technologies, two cell type categories, five device form factors, seven use cases and 11 vertical industries.
The report comes with an associated Excel datasheet suite covering quantitative data from all numeric forecasts presented in the report, as well as a database of over 800 LTE/5G NR-based CBRS network engagements – as of Q3’2023.
The report has the following key findings:
SNS Telecom & IT estimates that annual investments in LTE and 5G NR-based CBRS network infrastructure will account for nearly $900 Million by the end of 2023. Complemented by an expanding selection of 3GPP Band 48/n48-compatible end user devices, the market is further expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 20% between 2023 and 2026 to surpass $1.5 Billion in annual spending by 2026.
LTE-based CBRS network deployments have gained considerable momentum in recent years and encompass hundreds of thousands of cell sites to support use cases as diverse as mobile network densification, fixed wireless broadband in rural communities, MVNO offload, neutral host small cells for in-building coverage enhancement, and private cellular networks for vertical industries and enterprises.
Commercial rollouts of 5G NR network equipment operating in the CBRS band have also begun, which are laying the foundation for Industry 4.0 and advanced application scenarios that have more demanding performance requirements in terms of throughput, latency, reliability, availability and connection density.
By eliminating the entry barriers associated with exclusive-use licensed spectrum, CBRS has spurred the entry of many new players in the cellular industry – ranging from private 4G/5G network specialists such as Celona, Betacom, Ballast Networks, Kajeet and BearCom to neutral host solutions provider InfiniG.
The secondary market for leasing and monetizing CBRS PAL spectrum rights is starting to get off the ground with the availability of spectrum exchange platforms – from the likes of Federated Wireless and Select Spectrum – which connect license holders with prospective third-party users to streamline transactions of under-utilized PAL spectrum.
Summary of CBRS Network Deployments
Summarized below is a review of LTE and 5G NR-based CBRS network across the United States and its territories:
Mobile Network Densification: Verizon has progressively rolled out CBRS spectrum for its LTE service across thousands of cell sites and is in the final stage of activating 5G NR-equipped CBRS small cells to supplement its existing 5G service deployment over C-band and mmWave (Millimeter Wave) spectrum. Claro Puerto Rico and several other mobile operators are also using CBRS to expand the capacity of their networks in high-traffic density environments.
Fixed Wireless Broadband Services: Frontier Communications, Mediacom, Midco, Nextlink Internet, Mercury Broadband, Surf Internet, Cal.net, IGL TeleConnect, OhioTT and MetaLINK are some of the many WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) that have deployed 3GPP-based CBRS networks for fixed wireless broadband services in rural and underserved markets with limited high-speed internet options.
Mobile Networks for New Entrants: Comcast and Charter Communications are leveraging their licensed CBRS spectrum holdings to install RAN infrastructure for targeted wireless coverage in strategic locations where subscriber density and data consumption is highest. The CBRS network buildouts are aimed at improving the economics of the cable operators’ MVNO services by offloading a larger proportion of mobile data traffic from host networks.
Neutral Host Networks: Among other neutral host CBRS network installations, social media and technology giant Meta has built an in-building wireless network – using small cells operating in the GAA tier of CBRS spectrum and MOCN (Multi-Operator Core Network) technology – to provide reliable cellular coverage for mobile operators Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile at its properties in the United States.
Private Cellular Networks: The availability of CBRS spectrum is accelerating private LTE and 5G network deployments across a multitude of vertical industries and application scenarios, extending from localized wireless systems for geographically limited coverage in factories, warehouses, airports, rail yards, maritime terminals, medical facilities, office buildings, sports venues, military bases and university campuses to municipal networks for community broadband, distance learning and smart city initiatives. Some notable examples of recent and ongoing deployments are listed below:
Education: Higher education institutes are at the forefront of hosting on-premise LTE and 5G networks in campus environments. Texas A&M University, Purdue University, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, Cal Poly, Virginia Tech, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Stanislaus State, West Chester University and Howard University are among the many universities that have deployed cellular networks for experimental research or smart campus-related applications. Another prevalent theme in the education sector is the growing number of private LTE networks aimed at eliminating the digital divide for remote learning in school districts throughout the United States.
Governments & Municipalities: The City of Las Vegas is deploying one of the largest private cellular networks in the United States, which will serve as an open connectivity platform available to local businesses, government, and educational institutions for deploying innovative solutions within the city limits. Local authorities in Tucson and Glendale (Arizona), Santa Maria (California), Longmont (Colorado), Shreveport (Louisiana), Montgomery (Alabama), and Dublin (Ohio) and several other municipalities have also deployed their own private wireless networks using CBRS spectrum.
Healthcare: During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional healthcare provider Geisinger took advantage of CBRS spectrum to deploy a private LTE network for telemedicine services in rural Pennsylvania while Memorial Health System utilized a temporary CBRS network to provide wireless connectivity for frontline staff and medical equipment in COVID-19 triage tents and testing facilities at its Springfield (Illinois) hospital. Since then, healthcare providers have begun investing in CBRS-enabled private wireless networks on a more permanent basis to facilitate secure and reliable communications for critical care, patient monitoring and back office systems in hospital campuses and other medical settings.
Manufacturing: German automotive giant BMW has deployed an industrial-grade 5G network for autonomous logistics at its Spartanburg plant in South Carolina. Rival automaker Tesla is migrating PROFINET/PROFIsafe-based AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle) communications from Wi-Fi to private 5G networks at its factories. Agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere is installing private cellular infrastructure at 13 of its production facilities. Dow, another prominent name in the U.S. manufacturing sector, has adopted a private LTE network to modernize plant maintenance at its Freeport chemical complex in Texas. FII (Foxconn Industrial Internet), Del Conca USA, Logan Aluminum, OCI Global, Schneider Electric, Bosch Rexroth, CommScope, Ericsson, Hitachi and many other manufacturers are also integrating private 4G/5G connectivity into their production operations.
Military: All branches of the U.S. military are actively investing in private cellular networks. One noteworthy example is the U.S. Navy’s standalone private 5G network at NAS (Naval Air Station) Whidbey Island in Island County (Washington). Operating in DISH Network’s licensed 600 MHz and CBRS spectrum, the Open RAN-compliant 5G network delivers wireless coverage across a geographic footprint of several acres to support a wide array of applications for advanced base operations, equipment maintenance and flight line management.
Mining: Compass Minerals, Albemarle, Newmont and a number of other companies have deployed 3GPP-based private wireless networks for the digitization and automation of their mining operations. Pronto’s off-road AHS (Autonomous Haulage System) integrates private cellular technology to support the operation of driverless trucks in remote mining environments that lack coverage from traditional mobile operators.
Oil & Gas: Cameron LNG has recently implemented a private LTE network for industrial applications at its natural gas liquefaction plant in Hackberry (Louisiana). Chevron, EOG Resources, Pioneer Natural Resources and Oxy (Occidental Petroleum Corporation) are also engaged in efforts to integrate LTE and 5G NR-based CBRS network equipment into their private communications systems.
Retail & Hospitality: Private cellular networks have been installed to enhance guest connectivity and internal operations in a host of hotels and resorts, including the Sound Hotel in Seattle (Washington), Gale South Beach and Faena Hotel in Miami (Florida), and Caribe Royale in Orlando (Florida). The American Dream retail and entertainment complex in East Rutherford (New Jersey) and regional shopping mall Southlands in Aurora (Colorado) are notable examples of early adopters in the retail segment.
Sports: The NFL (National Football League) is utilizing CBRS spectrum and private wireless technology for coach-to-coach and sideline (coach-to-player) communications during football games at all 30 of its stadiums. HSG (Haslam Sports Group) and other venue owners have installed 3GPP-based private wireless infrastructure at stadiums, arenas and other sports facilities for applications such as mobile ticket scanning, automated turnstiles, POS (Point-of-Sale) systems, digital signage, immersive experiences, video surveillance, crowd management and smart parking. FOX Sports and ARA (American Rally Association) have employed the use of private 4G/5G networks to support live broadcast operations.
Transportation: Private cellular networks have been deployed or are being trialed at some of the busiest international and domestic airports, including Chicago O’Hare, Newark Liberty, DFW (Dallas Fort Worth), Dallas Love Field and MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul), as well as inland and maritime ports such as SSA Marine’s (Carrix) terminals in the ports of Oakland and Seattle. Other examples in the transportation segment range from on-premise 4G/5G networks at Amazon’s FCs (Fulfillment Centers), CalChip Connect’s Bucks County distribution center and Teltech’s Dallas-Fort Worth warehouse to Freight railroad operator’s private LTE network for rail yard workers at its outdoor rail switching facilities.
Utilities: Major utility companies spent nearly $200 Million in the CBRS PAL auction to acquire licenses within their service territories. Southern Linc, SDG&E (San Diego Gas & Electric), SCE (Southern California Edison) and Hawaiian Electric are using their licensed spectrum holdings to deploy 3GPP-based FANs (Field Area Networks) in support of grid modernization programs while Duke Energy has installed a private LTE network operating in the unlicensed GAA tier of CBRS spectrum. Among other examples, Enel has deployed a CBRS network for business-critical applications at a remote solar power plant.
Other Verticals: LTE and 5G NR-ready CBRS networks have also been deployed in other vertical sectors, including agriculture, arts and culture, construction and forestry. In addition, CBRS networks for indoor wireless coverage enhancement and smart building applications are also starting to be implemented in office environments, corporate campuses and residential buildings. Prominent examples include the Cabana Happy Valley residential complex in Phoenix (Arizona) and Rudin Management Company’s 345 Park Avenue multi-tenant commercial office building in New York City.
With all the air coming out of the next gen cellular hype balloon, Dell’Oro’s report that CBRS RAN is not living up to expectations comes as no surprise. Think about the failed promise of 5G since there is no standard or spec for URLLC in the RAN. Or all the terrific 5G functions and features (including network slicing and security) which are ONLY made possible with a 5G SA core network (very few have been deployed). Or that there is no standard (revision of M.1036) for the mmWave frequencies to be used for 5G.
Dell’Oro says that CBRS adoption continues to increase, but it is significantly below expectations. That’s driven primarily by diverging trends between fixed wireless access (FWA) and non-FWA including public and private LTE/5G NR.
“Adoption gaps across the various CBRS segment remained significant in 2021,” said Stefan Pongratz, Vice President and analyst with Dell’Oro Group. “We have again revised the CBRS RAN projections downward to reflect the lower baseline and slower-than-expected uptake with non-FWA segments. This adjustment does not change the long-term vision—we continue to believe that there is an opportunity to improve spectrum utilization while at the same time stimulating innovation for both public and private networks across various industry segments. So we see this downward revision more as a calibration to reflect the current state of the market and the fact that there is still a significant gap between registered SAS APs and LTE/5G NR base stations,” continued Pongratz.
Source: Counterpoint Research
Other highlights from the CBRS RAN Advanced Research Report:
- LTE is projected to drive the lion share of the investments over the near term while 5G NR based CBRS capex will dominate by 2026.
- CBRS RAN revenues are expected to account for less than 5 percent of North America RAN by 2026.
- Fixed Wireless Access and capacity augmentation for Mobile Broadband (MBB) applications are dominating the CBRS RAN capex mix initially while the enterprise share is expected to improve in the outer part of the forecast period.
Pongratz’s comments were echoed by Norman Fekrat of CBRS vendor Imagine Wireless. In a recent YouTube presentation, Fekrat said that sales of CBRS-based private wireless networking equipment and services to enterprises have been sluggish.
He attributed that in part on the complexities around the technology to use CBRS spectrum. He said the telecom industry in general needs to smooth the sales process for enterprises looking to build their own private wireless networks using CBRS spectrum.
According to Pongratz, there’s a wide range of vendors selling CBRS-capable hardware and software. He said companies like Baicells, BliNQ Networks, Airspan Networks, Telrad Networks and Cambium Networks sell equipment into the FWA market, while companies like Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung have been supplying CBRS equipment into the market for mobile networks.
Verizon was the biggest spender during the FCC’s 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum auction (#105) in 2020, paying almost $1.9 billion for 557 licenses in markets across the U.S. We reported that they planned to test carrier aggregation in the CBRS band, but don’t know if that ever happened. Instead, Verizon’s attention has since shifted following the massive $53 billion it spent in the FCC’s C-band spectrum auction last year. Verizon recently lit up C-band services that covers ~ 95 million people.
Dish Network was another major CBRS spectrum buyer, but they too have not started a major buildout of its CBRS spectrum holdings.
Among the cablecos/MSOs, Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and others spent millions of dollars on licenses in the auction. However, Charter is the only cable company that has discussed any major efforts to construct a network in the spectrum. Charter may provide additional details on its CBRS efforts during its fourth quarter earnings conference call scheduled for Friday (January 28th).
Financial analysts at New Street Research believe that’s a mistake. “Deployed spectrum has strong long-term strategic benefits. Developing expertise in wireless networking will take years,” they wrote in a note to investors this week. “We think Comcast should be making hard investments in wireless infrastructure now.”
Dell’Oro Group’s Advanced Research: Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) Report offers an overview of the CBRS LTE and 5G NR potential with a 5-year forecast for the CBRS RAN market by technology, location, and market. For more information about the report, please contact us at [email protected].
The Federal Communications Committee (FCC) has given Verizon Wireless permission to conduct a series of tests in the 3.55 to 3.7GHz CBRS spectrum band using three radio stations in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Verizon said the tests will involve 5G and carrier aggregation technology. The FCC grant reads as follows:
Verizon Wireless is working with 5G base station and mobile device equipment vendors to
conduct product testing of 3.5 GHz in outdoor locations listed below.
1. Minneapolis (HENNEPIN), MN – NL 44-48-26; WL 93-22-29; MOBILE: within 0.75 km
radius of center point location, within 0.75 km, centered around NL 44-48-26;
2. Minneapolis (HENNEPIN), MN – NL 44-48-24; WL 93-22-29; MOBILE: within 0.75 km
radius of center point location, within 0.75 km, centered around NL 44-48-24;
3. Minneapolis (HENNEPIN), MN – NL 44-48-24; WL 93-22-29; MOBILE: within 0.75 km
radius of center point location, within 0.75 km, centered around NL 44-48-24.
“Verizon and partners plan to conduct the proposed 5G tests using pre-commercial equipment in prototype form,” Verizon said in its FCC application. The operator did not name the device or network equipment partners it will be working with for the tests.
PCMag reported that Verizon has only been using CBRS spectrum only for 4G – LTE. In Jackson Heights (Queens, NY), the CBRS-enhanced 4G clocked 456Mbps, while 5G DSS at the same times and similar locations hit 232Mbps. The PCMag author previously observed Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband at about3.2Gbps.
Therefore, the move to 5G over CBRS is significant. Verizon added that it plans to evaluate “intra-band and inter-band carrier aggregation between 3.5GHz and licensed (and/or unlicensed) bands,” including its licensed 700MHz, PCS and AWS bands. [Carrier aggregation technology can be used to bond together transmissions across different spectrum bands, thus dramatically increasing users’ connection speeds.]
Light Reading’s Mike Dano says that Verizon has been adding support for the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band to its network for years. And last year Verizon spent $1.9 billion to purchase CBRS spectrum licenses across the country in an FCC auction.
Verizon’s tests roughly coincide with the operator’s three-year, $10 billion program to put its C-band spectrum licenses into use. Verizon succeeded in more than doubling its existing mid-band spectrum holdings by adding an average of 161 MHz of C-Band nationwide paying $52.9 billion including incentive payments and clearing costs.
Verizon has reportedly shown growing interest in providing service in the 3.5 GHz band via Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) frequencies, even though federal regulators (FCC and NTIA- see below) have yet to allow carriers to launch commercial operations using the mid-band spectrum. The development also points to Verizon’s increased enthusiasm for unlicensed spectrum, which saves money at the risk of frequency crowding.
Verizon first signaled its interest in the 3.5GHz CBRS band during the Mobile World Congress trade show in 2017. Ed Chan — now one of Verizon’s top network executives — said CBRS could power a number of business models including both private and commercial mobile networks. And then last year Verizon issued a press release about its ongoing CBRS testing with Federated Wireless, Google, Nokia and Qualcomm.
Since then Verizon executives have routinely said the operator is interested in using the 3.5GHz for outdoor and indoor small cells. Indeed, just last month the operator embarked on new outdoor and indoor CBRS tests, according to filings with the FCC.
But the fact that Verizon is already deploying CBRS antennas into its network, and is already selling several CBRS-capable phones including the Pixel 3 and the Samsung Galaxy S10, shows that Verizon is keen to put the band to commercial use much more quickly than expected. According to some new Verizon cell tower applications, the largest U.S. wireless network operator is now specifically noting support for the 3.5GHz band:
Verizon and a wide range of other companies are waiting for the FCC and NTIA to give final approval for initial commercial deployments in the CBRS 3.5GHz band. Those approvals are expected in the next few weeks. After monitoring the initial deployments, the FCC is expected to sign off on broad, unlicensed commercial use of the 3.5GHz band in the third quarter. In 2020, the FCC is expected to conduct auctions of 3.5GHz licenses.
Verizon, like most wireless carriers, wants to add more spectrum to its network to keep pace with increasing user traffic. But instead of spending billions of dollars buying spectrum from someone like Dish Network, or buying it at a government auction, Verizon increasingly is using unlicensed spectrum. Such spectrum is free to use but can become crowded.
Verizon first hinted at its unlicensed aspirations in its support for the LTE-U standard roughly five years ago. That standard was designed to allow cellular operators to expand LTE transmissions from licensed spectrum bands and into the 5GHz unlicensed band. Although the similar LAA standard eventually replaced the LTE-U standard, the result is the same: Operators like Verizon can add more capacity to their networks by basically pushing LTE transmissions into unlicensed spectrum bands alongside their existing, licensed spectrum bands. AT&T and T-Mobile are also deploying LAA.
Verizon may employ the same strategy in the 3.5GHz CBRS band. And the reason Verizon is moving so fast to do so is probably to add capacity to its network quickly. As noted by the Wall Street analysts at Wells Fargo, Verizon sits well behind AT&T in terms of overall mid-band spectrum ownership:
Although Verizon owns significant amounts of so-called millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum, it owns just slightly more mid-band spectrum than T-Mobile does — although Verizon counts almost twice as many mobile customers.
Thus, Verizon may well be looking for ways to improve its network capacity with unlicensed spectrum like the 3.5GHz band while it waits for the FCC to release more mid-band spectrum like the C Band.
Addendum — 3.5GHz band for 5G in China:
China Telecom was allowed to use the 3.4 GHz to 3.5 GHz frequency range to carry out 5G trials in mainland China. Under the agreement with the Chinese government, China Telecom will return its 2.635 GHz to 2.655 GHz spectrum over the same timeframe.
China Unicom said it has been approved to use the 3.5 GHz to 3.6 GHz frequency band for a nationwide 5G trial rollout until June 2020. The telco said that it will gradually cease to use the frequency in the 2.555 GHz to 2.575 GHz range that it had been using for 5G trials and progressively return it to the MIIT.